After Neetu Chandak ’18 condemned a government course offering as an example of Cornell’s apparent “liberal bias” displayed in a fall course offering on a Fox news segment Friday, students have pushed back in defense of the professor.
Chandak, a reporter for Campus Reform and a member of The Sun’s multimedia team, said Fox reached out to Campus Reform in search of a Cornell student perspective. The Cornell Review first published an article about a course — Government 2817: America Confronts the World — that was later republished by the Campus Reform.
Chandak noted that her incentive to appear on the show was to illuminate the experience of conservative and moderate students in the classroom at Cornell where she said “sometimes they feel like they can’t speak up in class with their points of views without getting shut down, without getting ostracized or without having the fear that their grade could be negatively affected.”
Though she admitted that she had not reached out to Prof. Peter Katzenstein, government, who is offering the class, Chandak said that from reading the course description, “there was absolutely bias.”
Chandak added that attaching the phrase “xenophobic nationalism” and “pragmatic cosmopolitanism” to Trump and Obama, respectively, immediately established a parallel that imposed positive and negative connotations.
“It’s only showing Donald Trump in a negative way and Barack Obama in a positive way when they both have their positives and negatives,” Chandak said.
“I think that could have been better worded, but the way it was worded on the course description, it’s absolutely showing bias,” Chandak told The Sun. “I don’t think the professor is very interested in having a fair and open conversation. It just seems to be more about bashing the current president.”
While agreeing that the description’s wording conveyed a sense of liberal bias, several conservative student leaders pushed back against her claims. Like Chandak, Austin McLaughlin ’18, president of Cornell Republicans, said that this was “not the first course description I have encountered that I believe exhibits liberal bias.”
In reaction to the Fox news clip, McLaughlin said that he “believe[s] [Chandak] made good points in drawing attention to the existence of this bias.”
For McLaughlin, in choosing courses from their descriptions, “it is fair for conservative students to keep course and professor reputations in mind when enrolling,” he said. Consideration of the professor for this particular course prompted McLaughlin to be more confident in the course.
“I have full faith that Professor Peter Katzenstein has the ability to fairly display both sides of the argument, regardless of an individual student’s politics,” he said. “While I have not taken a class from him, in reading his publications and hearing reviews of his pedagogy, I am confident he can articulate either argument equitably.”
A former student of Katzenstein, Michael Johns ’20 said the claim that this course is anti-Trump is “probably not true.” Johns describes himself as a conservative student and serves on the executive board of the Cornell Republicans.
“[Katzenstein] made a lot of efforts throughout the semester to try to include conservative students, specifically imploring them to speak up in class, really never making anyone feel excluded or like their views were illegitimate,” Johns said. “He’s a liberal professor, he’s given substantially to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in their presidential campaigns. … And I don’t think that he really denies that in his courses. He does provide some things from his perspective, but he is certainly open to being challenged and invites that during lecture.“
Another self-described conservative student, Sam Romero ’18, said she understands why some students may be hesitant to take the class given its course description that “did seem a little bit biased in the diction of it.”
“If I hadn’t taken courses with Professor Katzenstein, I could see how perhaps if you don’t know the professor at all or don’t know the background, then it could put you off,” she said. Romero, who has already taken two courses taught by Katzenstein, enrolled in Government 2817 and says it is “the one class that I’m most excited about this year.”
“When it comes to the particular words like ‘xenophobic nationalism’ and ‘pragmatic cosmopolitanism’ in itself, words have meaning and those connotations are there,” Romero said. “[Katzenstein] is a professor who is very well-known as a constructivist and a big part of that is language and the impact of language. So I don’t think that it was accidental. I think it was intentional choice of wording.”
Katzenstein could not be reached for a comment. According to Prof. Mary Katzenstein, government, he is currently “on the road,” away from Ithaca for the week.